Monday, September 1, 2008

Briefly: U.S. aid to Armenia; Azer. vs. U.S. re democracy; Darfur vs. Sudan

First published in May 17, 2008

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

U.S. official discusses aid to Armenia

The State Department’s coordinator of assistance to Eurasia, Tom Adams, was in Armenia meeting with President Serge Sargsian on May 15. According to the president’s press service, their conversation focused on the impact of Armenia’s post-election crisis on U.S. assistance to Armenia, and specifically Armenia’s continued eligibility for the Millennium Challenge Assistance program.

Mr. Adams is the outgoing cochair of the U.S.-Armenia Task Force (USATF) on economic cooperation, which meets bi-annually to review U.S. aid programs and bilateral cooperation and chart future plans. Former finance minister Vardan Khachatrian served as USATF’s Armenia co-chair before being replaced last month.

According to the USAID-Armenia strategy paper for 2009–2013, the focus of U.S. assistance to Armenia in the next five years will be on global competitiveness of the Armenian economy, increase in quality of social and health services, and promotion of democratic reforms through civil society activism.

U.S. assistance programs administered through USAID have amounted to about $75 million a year between fiscal 2004 and 2006, declining to $50 million in fiscal 2007. Meanwhile, U.S.-Armenia trade turnover has remained steady in recent years amounting to $137 million in 2004, $112 million in 2005, $127 million in 2006, and $143 million in 2007, according to U.S. Census figures.

Armenia’s exports to the United States have declined from $46 million in 2004 to $33 million in 2007 mirroring the decrease in Armenia’s jewelry sector output. Jewelry items remained the single largest export to U.S. in 2007 valued at $13 million.

Senior Azerbaijani official unhappy with U.S. leaders’ comments on democracy

Officials from Azerbaijan’s authoritarian regime have pushed for greater international condemnation of Armenia since its postelection crisis (see this page in the April 19, 2008 Armenian Reporter); instead they have heard more criticism of their own behavior.

In a May 1 speech to mark World Press Freedom Day, President George W. Bush singled out Azerbaijan, along with China, Cuba, Eritrea, and Iran as “the world’s top jailer(s) of journalists.” And days before, speaking at the U.S. Peace Corps conference on April 29, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice referred to Azerbaijan as the most problematic Caucasus country in terms of democracy.

In “the Caucasus ... not so much Georgia, but Azerbaijan [and] to a certain extent Armenia... there is important work to be bring that part of the Caucasus closer to [democratic] standards that we thought they were once meeting. And it has been a disappointment,” she said.

One of Azerbaijan’s most influential officials, the long-serving chief of the presidential administration Ramiz Mekhtiyev (who has held that job since 1993 under both father and son Aliyev) said that “Condoleezza Rice’s statements about Azerbaijan cannot be taken seriously.... You can only conclude from her words that Azerbaijan ought to copy the March events in Armenia so as to earn a good report on us,” according to the IWPR Caucasus Report on May 8.

Mr. Mekhtiyev went on to describe U.S. democracy programs in Azerbaijan as “interference in the internal affairs of the country,” adding that “the U.S. would not permit the interference of another country into its internal processes, so why should that happen in Azerbaijan?”

Darfur rebels raid Sudan’s capital

Rebel forces from Sudan’s Darfur province staged an unprecedented attack on the outskirts of country’s capital Khartum, resulting in gun battles that killed hundreds on May 10, news agencies reported. The Sudanese Army beat back the attack at the cost of about 100 security forces. The government seized 180 vehicles used by the rebel groups to travel about 400 miles toward the capital.

The five-year conflict in Sudan’s Darfur province has claimed the lives of an estimated 300,000 people, leading to charges of genocide by the U.S. and sanctions against Sudan. While a contingent of 9,000 peacekeepers from African countries has deployed to the province, it has failed to stem the violence, itself coming under attack from both the rebels and the pro-government forces.

United Nations envoy for Darfur Jean-Marie Guehenno told the UN Security Council of May 15 that prospects for peace in the area have grown even more remote.

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